Flavors: Montana Hospitality Brewing at Evergreen Cafe
Montana hospitality is brewing at the Evergreen café in midtown Billings. Inside the Evergreen Ace Hardware store, Stu and Cydney Hoefle with son Mitch, opened an eatery to serve ranch inspired sandwiches and soups, and their house made kombucha, Big Sky Kombucha, fondly nicknamed “The Big Hooch.”
After remodeling the old Evergreen IGA grocery store, owner Skip King opened Evergreen Ace Hardware in February of 2020. On the north side of his space, where the old grocery deli and seafood counter was located, space for a small restaurant was available. “It seemed intriguing that this was the old IGA deli area, and with Skip next door doing his business, there seemed to be an inflow and outflow of workers and people, and so the food was a good idea,” Stu said. The Hoefles launched their “good idea” in June during the COVID pandemic as restrictions were loosening up.
The space required a major overhaul. “We completely gutted it,” Cyd shared. “We rebooted the whole thing. We redid the floors. We redid the ceilings. We just wanted it clean and bright. We wanted it to look good, look inviting. I think a clean kitchen is inviting,” Stu added.
From the dining area brightened with lime green colored walls, a customer can look beyond the barn door into a well lighted clean kitchen to the back where stainless steel containers hold fermenting kombucha. “The barnwood door was from my family ranch. My dad ran it through a sawmill,” Cyd said. The door highlights the Western industrial theme of the restaurant. To prominently tell people what they are selling, daughter, Melanie designed a sign mimicking Scrabble tiles with the words “CHARCUTERIE” and “KOMBUCHA.”
Evergreen Cafe carries delicatessen meats, cheeses and condiments from Boar’s Head, a company started in 1905 in Brooklyn, New York. “We feel like we are offering fast-healthy,” Cyd said. The Boar’s Head meats and cheese “come in fresh, not frozen, and we wanted to do fast, so we came up with the idea of charcuterie trays. She confesses that she had reinvented the name “charcuterie” which refers to cold cooked meats in French. “We thought: let’s add vegetables and fruit to it, and come up with some fun dips and sandwiches”.
As a fourth generation Montanan, Cyd’s upbringing on a cattle ranch on the banks of the Yellowstone River inspired the sandwiches and soups found on the cafe menu. “My Mom would make meals for forty people at a branding or a roping. It’s the comfort food thing. When you are on a ranch, you make food that people are going to enjoy and they are going to fill up on.” While entertaining friends over the years, the Hoefles learned to feed a crowd.
The Rancher and The Stampede are two of the named sandwiches. Other family favorites are fondly named “Momma’s Chicken Salad,” and with a nod to another relative, “Aunt Mern’s Egg Salad”. Stu coined these names of the cafe’s offerings in honor of Cyd’s family-inspired recipes.
With 25 years of experience at Chalet Market, employee Lorie Koch has added to the growing success of the cafe.Though Koch pitches in wherever she is needed, she said, “I love making the trays. Somebody comes in and asks: “Can you make me this or that tray?” So it's fun to be able to create that, and see what I can come up with.” Designing the charcuterie trays provides a creative outlet for Koch.
Koch has been instrumental in the execution and redefinition of Cyd’s family recipes. Evergreen Cafe offers a chicken curry soup. Though Cyd’s mother did not cook with curry, the soup contains the basic chicken, vegetables and stock, but is updated with a touch of British style curry. Cyd enjoys collaborating with Koch, “We research recipes depending on the ingredients we have here in the café. We use what we can. There’s very little waste here because we use spare ingredients in something every day.” “Not being a franchise, we can do what we want to,” such as adding extra apples or grapes into the chicken curry salad. Pickles are a favorite ingredient, including the juice. The pickles are found in the chicken curry salad and in their house-created pickle dip. The juice goes into Stu’s Big Sky Kombucha.
Kombucha is a drink fermented with a SCOBY. The process involves a sugary tea being converted to a fizzy slightly sour beverage, similar to apple cider vinegar. “SCOBY” is an acronym for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.” It is a slimy looking jellyfish, mushroom-like mass that is said to produce probiotics that aid in digestion, cleanse the body of toxins, and boost energy levels.
Stu begins with brewing white, green and black tea leaves. After sweetening the tea, he adds the SCOBY. “I brew in stainless steel kettles,” he said. From start to finish, fermentation would be twelve days, roughly. I keg it and I flash chill it, and it will sit in the cooler for a day or two and I actually force carbonate to get that fizziness in. None of my kegs last longer than a month so it is always fresh.”
After fermenting the tea, flavoring is added in the form of fruit juices, flavor extracts, spices or fresh ingredients such as basil. In Stu’s case, pickle juice is one of flavorings for his many concoctions. Customers can sample any or all of his eight rotating flavors while pint or growler fills can be taken home.
With a decade of experience, Stu has fine-tuned his kombucha production. He has learned the science, and is fastidious about how he produces it. “I have studied the parameters of the kombucha that I think are important to track. That has helped me, over time, to develop a procedure I do every time. Consistency is very important to me,” he said.
Consistency may be the long-term ingredient of success for the Hoefles. Married for 35 years, the couple are also the owners and publishers of Raised in the West Magazine where Cyd does some of the writing and Stu takes the photographs. “We like to collaborate on each other’s ideas. It’s fun, we can build on those, and it’s easier to work together than against each other. I think that’s the mantra we have been able to carry forward”, and carry forward they did with Evergreen Cafe and Big Sky Kombucha.